S.Korea announces extension of COVID restrictions

South Korea will extend its period of shortened business hours and most other coronavirus restrictions until early February, amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

The restrictions were due to expire on Sunday.

Government officials said on Friday that the measures will remain for another three weeks. The period includes the 5-day Lunar New Year holiday that starts on January 29.

Restaurants are to close at 9 p.m., and vaccine certificates or proof of negative test results will remain necessary to enter department stores and large supermarkets.

But the country's cap on the size of private gatherings will be increased from four to six, in consideration of calls for easing the rules.

The restrictions were introduced in December, when the country saw its daily number of infections top 7,000 for the first time. Case counts now stand at between 3,000 and 5,000 per day.

The government has approved the use of an oral drug developed by US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer from Friday, to prevent severe COVID-19. Government officials remain on guard as they try to contain infections.